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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Brutal Deaths Shock Connecticut Town; New Plan to Keep U.S. Troops in Iraq For Two More Years?; Allegations of Abuse and Torture Surface at Mississippi Jail
Aired July 24, 2007 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Tonight, a quiet neighborhood will never be the same, after a family was brutalized, murdered, and then incinerated. It began as a home invasion, a shocking crime that has a community stunned. Two men are in custody -- the details just coming out. We will have the latest.
Also tonight, a new plan for Iraq, one that could mean tens of thousands of American troops staying in harm's way for the next two years. We will talk with the "New York Times" reporter who broke the story.
And a young man's death turns a town inside out, revealing allegations of beatings, torture and attempts to hush it all up. Those are the accusations. We're checking the facts and "Keeping Them Honest."
We begin tonight in the quiet Connecticut town of Cheshire. Sometimes, though, horrible things hide in the quiet. Two men are in jail tonight, charged with committing nearly unspeakable acts, brutality against a family who thought they were safe in their own home. Three members of that family, mother and two children, are now in the morgue.
Reporting for us that, 360's Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While neighbors slept, members of the Petit family were fighting for their lives; 3:00 a.m., police say two men forced their way into the Petit home, inside, William Petit Jr., a prominent Connecticut doctor, his wife, Jennifer, a nurse, and their two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, ages 17 and 11.
Police say the men tied the family up. Then, around 9:00 a.m., broad daylight, one of them reportedly drove Mrs. Petit to this bank to withdraw cash, a critical moment.
LIEUTENANT JAY MARKELLA, CHESHIRE, CONNECTICUT, POLICE DEPARTMENT: A member of the residence was able to relay to the bank teller that they were being held captive and that the family was being held captive. The bank teller notified the police department.
KAYE: By the time, the police arrived the Petits' home was on fire. Police call it an apparent attempt by the suspects, 26-year-old Joshua Komisarjevky and 44-year-old Steven Hayes, each with a long criminal history, to cover their tracks.
JOAN ST. PIERRE, PETIT FAMILY FRIEND: It's something like you would see on "CSI" or something, the horrible hours of being subjected to -- to brutality, and to not knowing what's going to happen, just the sheer anxiety and the fear of it all.
KAYE: Help came too late. A source close to the investigation confirms Hayley's charred body was found at the top of the stairs, her younger sister tied to her bed, their mother on the first floor. It's unclear if they died in the fire or were killed first.
Incredibly, Dr. Petit, who a source confirms was tied up in the basement, survived, forcing his way through the fire, up the stairs and outside, beaten and bloodied.
MARKELLA: If you're a resident here, this type of crime doesn't happen here. It -- it doesn't happen in Cheshire. This is the type of town where you go to bed at night and you leave your door unlocked. And, when something like that happens, it affects you. It affects you deeply, and it affects your heart.
KAYE: Police would not say if they found weapons or comment on motive, only that this is an isolated incident. The suspects tried to flee in the family's SUV just as police arrived and were arrested after colliding with police cars.
(on camera): The brutality of it all has shaken this upper- middle-class community, their peace and quiet shattered by the noise of media satellite trucks. But it's not just the loss of life that has residents on edge here. It's the notion that a killer may have been living among them. Police say the youngest suspect lives less than two miles from the family's home.
(voice-over): Both suspects appeared in court on charges of assault, first-degree aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and arson. They did not enter a plea, and are each being held on $15 million bond.
COOPER: Do we know how Dr. Petit is doing tonight, Randi? And, also what -- what about these suspects? What do we know about them?
KAYE: Anderson, remarkably, Dr. Petit is in stable condition tonight. He was critical, so that's very good news.
Now, regarding the suspects, they both have very long rap sheets. There's a lot of frustration in this community that these two men were out on the street, out on parole, and allegedly able to commit this very horrific crime.
Now, there's something called a three strikes law. And that mandates people who have committed very serious crimes, three very serious crimes, that would mandate long prison sentences for them. Now, Connecticut is one of the states in the U.S. that does not have that law.
Now, if they did, I'm told the younger suspect would actually have been behind bars already for a very long time, and not on the street -- Anderson.
COOPER: Randi, thanks for that.
This deadly invasion may have begun as a burglary, a crime that really happens all the time. Now, the FBI doesn't keep statistics on home invasions, but we found some startling numbers on burglaries.
Here's the raw data. A burglary is committed in the U.S. every 14.6 seconds. On average, burglars spend just eight to 12 minutes in the home. The thief is usually a male teenager who lives within two miles of his target. Most of the crimes occur between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
If you see more security at airports, this might be the reason. A new TSA intelligence bulletin titled "Incidents at U.S. Airports" may suggest probable pre-attack probing. And, although officials say there's no specific threat, the bulletin goes on to say -- quote -- "A surge in recent suspicious incidents at U.S. airports may indicate terrorists are conducting pre-attack security probes and dry runs similar to dress rehearsals."
Well, that warning may not surprise you, given the recent comments by Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, but a story broken today by "The New York Times" will likely come as a surprise to many. For all the talk by Democrats pulling out of Iraq and all the talk about training Iraqi security forces being the U.S. military's number-one priority, it now appears the Pentagon is planning for a long stay in Iraq, at least two more years.
The plan is called the Joint Campaign Plan, and, according to "The New York Times," has been devised by commanding General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, top U.S. civilian in Baghdad.
The plan calls for restoring local security in Baghdad and elsewhere by next summer. And though the plan reportedly doesn't mention numbers, a source tells ABC News that the troop surge will continue on through next spring. Beyond that, the plan sets a target of helping the Iraqi people achieve what it calls sustainable security by the summer of 2009, two years.
The question, what does all this mean? How does it jive with the political realities here in America and the political realities in Iraq? All those questions are not clear tonight.
Helping us to keep them honest is "New York Times" reporter Michael Gordon. He joins from us Baghdad.
Michael, how big of a shift is this new plan from the previous ones?
MICHAEL GORDON, CHIEF MILITARY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think this is entirely consistent with the strategy that President Bush outlined in January.
But it's a huge shift from the plan that pre-dated that, the one that was put together with General Casey. What General Casey did was, he put a premium on trying to transfer security to the Iraqis. It was decided that he was basically pushing it too far, too fast. Sectarian violence was rising. And, so, the U.S. adopted a different strategy, one that puts a premium on trying to protect the Iraqi population.
COOPER: It's interesting, though, because, over here, we're still being told by the administration that, you know, training the Iraqi security forces is the number-one property now.
And President Bush, you know, we all heard him talk for so long about, as the Iraqis stand up, U.S. troops will stand down. Is training -- under this plan, is training the security forces still priority number one? It doesn't seem like it.
GORDON: Well, I mean, security is -- training the Iraqi security force is an important task.
But, really, what this plan points out is that the surge that's going on now is really just one phase of the strategy, and that the point of the current strategy is to basically establish order in Baghdad and other local areas around the country, beat back al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, tamp down the sectarian violence, and then enter a new phase, where there will be more emphasis on partnering with Iraqi forces and bringing them up to snuff.
It's too much to expect the Iraqi forces to handle this burden on their own right now.
COOPER: So, for those who, in America, are expecting, come September, when -- when General Petraeus is expected to make a report to -- to the Congress, to the administration, about progress, for those who are expecting that to be some sort of watershed event, it sounds like that, in terms of the military's perspective, is just a formality, or it's just a step.
I mean, this plan -- how much of this plan is already in operation?
GORDON: Well, the plan has already been in operation for several months. I mean, the tasks the military set for itself are really quite challenging. And it will be difficult really to accomplish these goals.
They're talking about establishing security in Baghdad and in other localities in Iraq in a year's time. I mean, this is a violent- racked city, and while there's been progress on the security front during the surge, establishing real security in Baghdad in a year's time is a tall order.
And then they're talking about establishing something they call sustainable security, which will involve Iraqi forces and American forces in two years' time. That's an incredibly tall order. If the American military can do that much, it will be a great accomplishment. So, I think it's really no surprise that they're talking about those sorts of timelines. There's a real disconnect between the way the situation is seen in Iraq and the way that it's seen in Washington. In Iraq, it's seen as really a long haul, and a long-term commitment. In Washington, there's much more emphasis on near-term results and reducing forces fast.
COOPER: And we hear over and over again that there is no military solution to the problem, that it's got to be a political solution. How do -- how do the political -- how do the political elements fit in -- into this plan?
GORDON: Well, they do fit in, because, even though, you know, there are five additional brigade combat teams here, roughly 160,000 American forces, everyone here, from General Petraeus on down, recognizes there's not a pure military solution to this problem.
What the theory is -- and this is the theory that's being tested now -- is that the military force can be used to establish conditions in which the Iraqis can begin to attempt some kind of political reconciliation, That's right. , while the violence was going unchecked, it simply wasn't possible for the national leaders to have proper discussions, and it was difficult to establish stability in areas like Al Anbar Province and Diyala.
So, the military side is sort of a necessary condition, but it's not a sufficient condition, for establishing order in Baghdad. That depends on Iraqi politics, and, unfortunately, the Iraqi politics has been lagging behind the security.
COOPER: Michael, your reporting on Iraq has been remarkable. You wrote the book "Cobra II," which is an essential read for anyone interested in what has gone on in Iraq.
On this trip to Baghdad, on this trip to -- to Iraq, what has surprised you most? Anything?
GORDON: Well, I think that, really, the new thing here -- and it's still emerging -- is efforts by the United States to work with former insurgents in Al Anbar and Diyala and other places, and to establish sort of a new sort of security element to fight al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and basically restore security.
And I was here a year ago. I was here in the fall also, but I was here roughly a year ago and in Al Anbar Province. And that section of the country has changed, somewhat dramatically, in terms of the number of attacks, which are way down, over a year's time frame.
That said, there are still very difficult areas, like Diyala Province, and areas in northern Iraq, and still also indeed some areas of Baghdad itself. But I think the main thing that surprised me is the differing perceptions in Baghdad and in Washington.
I think, in a funny way, the military here has a much more realistic assessment of the challenges than I think a lot of the politicians do in Washington. COOPER: Perhaps not surprising to hear that.
Michael Gordon, appreciate your reporting. Thank you very much, joining us tonight from Baghdad.
Last night, in the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton had nothing but kind words for her rival Barack Obama. They sparred over foreign policy, yes, but they did it pretty gently.
Well, that was then, and this is now. The gloves are coming off.
CNN's Tom Foreman joins us with some tape that shows the difference between sparring and a slugfest -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boy, is it a difference, Anderson.
Make no mistake about this. Camp Clinton, from the beginning, has been waiting for an opportunity to throw a haymaker at Barack Obama's head, if they could just get an opening. And, last night, they think they got it when this issue came up about the United States' government talking to opposing or enemy governments.
Listen to what the both -- both of them said last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: The Clinton folks clearly smell blood here, in terms of raw politics. They think this shows the inexperience of Barack Obama, that he doesn't understand how these things work. And she was jumping on it all over again today on radio.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CLINTON: I thought that was irresponsible, and, frankly, naive to say that you would commit to meeting with, you know, Chavez and Castro and others within the first year.
I think that the -- the -- the question was very specific, and Senator Obama gave an answer which I think he's regretting today.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Irresponsible and naive.
Now, this may be a classic case of inside-the-beltway/outside- the-beltway thinking. Inside the beltway, she gave the right response, because that's the normal government response in terms of dealing with these nations.
But Obama may have hit something that's resonating well with people outside the beltway, because they're saying, look, things haven't worked out so well with the normal government way of handling it. This is what he was saying today.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is a fabricated controversy, but I do think that it speaks to a larger point, which is, you know, if you want to talk about irresponsibility and naivete, look at her vote to authorize George Bush to send our troops into Iraq without an exit plan, and then asking the Pentagon about what the plan is five years later.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FOREMAN: You can tell that both of these candidates have absolutely been waiting to take off the gloves and swat at each other. That's what they're doing right now.
Interestingly enough, the one person who they most -- both might have turned to for advice in this, they can't turn to now, because he's another contender. Bill Richardson has enormous foreign policy chops. And he stayed out of this debate, but has been quietly sneaking up into third place in some polls.
So, we will see how this plays out -- Anderson.
COOPER: No doubt.
Tom, thanks very much -- Tom Foreman.
Just a reminder: We are going to be devoting our next hour to all the best of your questions for the candidates and some you didn't see last night.
And don't forget, you can start shooting your videos for the Republican debate. That's September 17, right here on CNN. You just go to YouTube.com for that.
Up next, a 360 exclusive:
COOPER (voice-over): From small-town whispers to a national outcry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would go along with the cause of death being a strangulation.
COOPER: But that's not what the officer autopsy says. Deaths, beatings, lawsuit, allegations of a cover-up. Now this. What's going on in Mississippi? A grieving mother is outraged. And you will be, too. We're "Keeping Them Honest."
Also tonight, Dr. Gupta goes shopping for endangered species.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Little baby civets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Little baby civets here.
COOPER: Civet cat, tiger parts -- a booming business spells trouble for endangered animals trying to survive on a "Planet in Peril" -- tonight, only on 360.
COOPER: Tonight, an exclusive "Keeping Them Honest" report. It takes us to a place that may hold a very dark secret.
It begins in Biloxi, Mississippi. That's where we set out to look into a suspicious incident. Then we started digging, and the allegations we found were shocking and almost impossible to believe.
We will have more on that in a moment.
But, first, the backdrop to a story from a small town. It's a report you won't see anywhere else.
Here's CNN's Kathleen Koch.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a cool December afternoon last year, Lee Damond (ph) Smith was arrested on this corner in Biloxi, Mississippi, for a crime he said he didn't commit. Cops say he shot a man in the leg. Police brought him here to the Harrison County Jail. His mother was terrified.
LASHUN SMITH, MOTHER OF LEE SMITH: I do not sleep. I just lay and stare.
KOCH: But Smith reassured his mom, swore he was innocent, and would be released soon. For the 21-year-old Smith, family was everything. He was a big brother who wrote letters to his three younger sisters about the kind of women he hoped they would be when they grew up. He washed dishes at this casino near his working-class neighborhood.
SMITH: You know, I'm going to take care of you. He say, I'm going to get you something real nice.
KOCH: But the arrest terrified Smith's mother, Lashun. She had heard frightening stories about guards abusing inmates in the jail.
SMITH: I'm terrified of all of the cops, all of them.
KOCH: We will come back to Lee Damond (ph) Smith's story in a moment.
But, first, you need to know what had going on in the jail, long before he ever got there.
(on camera): The Harrison County Jail has a deeply troubled history. At least four inmates have died due to unnatural circumstances since 2002. And, last year, an inmate was beaten to death in the booking room, the entire incident captured by jailhouse cameras.
(voice-over): The federal government won't release the video of that beating, citing an ongoing investigation, but these pictures show what happened to that inmate, Jessie Lee Williams. Guards beat him into a coma, and Tasered him so viciously, holes were burnt into his flesh.
Attorney Michael Crosby represents Williams' family.
MICHAEL CROSBY, ATTORNEY FOR WILLIAMS FAMILY: When they finally called the ambulance, he left unconscious. His pupils were fixed and dilated. He was, for all practical purpose, dead.
KOCH: Williams, a father of six, was soon taken off life support. Four jailers were indicted and pleaded not guilty. One has pleaded guilty, and another pleaded guilty to falsifying reports. The criminal trial is next month.
And then there are four more guards who have also pleaded guilty to abusing other inmates, among them, former deputy Preston Wills. Wills says he was not there the day of Williams' assault, but he says he witnessed and participated in many other beatings.
PRESTON WELLS, FORMER JAILER: I have seen people get punched. I have seen people get kicked. I have seen, you know, basically, just beat them -- that's about as best I can describe it -- I mean, for no reason.
CROSBY: It was not a racial issue. It was across the board. It was just an issue of people having complete power over other people who were in a compromised position, with no power. And that was it, and that was their excuse to just unleash holy terror upon them.
KOCH: Roderick Miller is a former inmate.
RODERICK MILLER, FORMER INMATE: I was punched. I was drug across a bench. I was kicked.
KOCH (on camera): Did they say anything while they were doing this?
MILLER: He repeatedly said he will kill me. He says, "I'm going to kill you."
KOCH: Did you believe him?
MILLER: Yes, I did believe him. I knew I was going to die.
KOCH (voice-over): Miller says, during his single night in jail, he was attacked by two guards, who threatened him, pummelled him, slammed him into a concrete wall, and ripped his shoulder out of its socket, all of it, he says, totally unprovoked. Miller has filed a lawsuit. The guards and the county have denied his allegations.
MILLER: There is no one in this world -- in this world -- who could ever convince me that I deserved any aspect of the beating, the torture, the brutality, and to place me in such fear of my life, that I knew I was going to die, and I was not going to see my kids, my children, my family, no one.
KOCH: Remember, this is a county jail. Most of the inmates have not been convicted of a crime, and many spend only one night here, after being arrested on minor offenses.
That's exactly what happened to this 27-year-old woman, arrested for public intoxication in 2001. This surveillance video shows her being walked into the booking room, resisting officers. A guard throws her down, face first. Later, as she kicks while held in a restraining chair, another officer takes a can of pepper spray, pries open her left eye, and shoots point blank.
She spent only one night in jail, but, when she left, she looked like this. Later, a district court would find jailers did not use excessive force, in light of the inmate's -- quote -- "behavior and combativeness."
Former jailer Preston wills was not present for this incident, but says the abuse was actually encouraged by senior officials.
(on camera): So, you were following along with the other jailers?
WILLS: Following along with the supervisors, supervisors, and the captain on down, you know?
KOCH: So, everyone knew about this and condoned it?
KOCH (voice-over): Sheriff George Payne, who supervises the jail, would not go on camera, but issued this statement, saying -- quote -- "I, in no matter or form, condone or encourage the use of excessive force by any individual employed by the Harrison County Sheriff's Department. As always, in the event that I become aware of such allegations, the incident is thoroughly investigated and reported to the proper investigatory entity."
But few are ever held responsible, says former jailer Preston Wills, because guards were taught to cover up the abuse by writing false incident reports.
(on camera): Did you think that the beatings would ever go to a point that someone would die?
WILLS: Yes, ma'am, most definitely. It was just a matter of time.
KOCH (voice-over): All of this happened before young Lee Damond (ph) Smith ever even set foot in the Harrison County Jail.
COOPER: We are going to have more of Kathleen's investigation into the Harrison County Jail in just a moment.
But, first, here's Kiran Chetry with what's coming up tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRAN CHETRY, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Thanks, Anderson.
A group of Americans say they are upset by the recent prosecutions of soldiers in Iraq, and they're coming to their defense with words, Web sites, and money. We are going to be speaking to one Web site organizer soliciting legal aid for troops, as well as a family that is going to be benefiting from their help.
Join us tomorrow for the most news in the morning beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern -- Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: Up next, more of our exclusive investigation. What happened to Lee Damond Smith (ph) behind the walls of the Harrison County Jail? His family wants answers -- when 360 continues.
COOPER: Lee Damond Smith was just 21 years old when he was taken to a county jail in Biloxi, Mississippi.
And, when he stepped foot into his cell, he really had no idea, probably, what kind of horrific allegations were being made against the guards, allegations involving excessive force, beatings, even murder. Smith -- Smith spent a few days behind bars. And that's when something happened to him, a tragedy that his family says was unspeakable and unnatural.
Once again, CNN's Kathleen Koch has the exclusive "Keeping Them Honest" report.
KOCH (voice-over): Madeline Dedeaux was a deputy and kitchen supervisor in the Harrison County Jail. She had heard inmates talk about beatings, but, last year, on January 7, she walked in on one in the booking room.
The ringleader, she says, was a veteran guard named Ryan Teel.
MADELINE DEDEAUX, FORMER JAILER: Ryan Teel was the one doing most of the blows and the hitting and the punching.
KOCH: Kasey Alves was the inmate. He was arrested that night for public intoxication.
Alves says guards jumped him for looking into a women's cell. He says he fought back, until they strapped him tightly into a restraining chair like this one. At the Harrison County Jail, it's known as the devil's chair.
KASEY ALVES, FORMER INMATE: They put a sheet around my head so tight that I couldn't breathe, you know, so I'm gasping for air, basically, and water was poured on me.
KOCH (on camera): What was the effect that this had?
ALVES: I had the effect of I was suffocating. I -- I thought I was going to die, actually. You know, I'm gasping for air, because the torture was -- it was horrible. It was very -- it was horrible.
KOCH: Now, you said torture.
ALVES: Yes, torture, yes, because...
KOCH: Do you -- do you believe that's what you underwent?
ALVES: Oh, yes, definitely, mental torture, physical torture. Torture.
KOCH (voice-over): Alves says he was then left for eight hours, strapped in the chair.
ALVES: The restraints were so tight, that, actually, it put welts on my shoulders. It was like a burning sensation that I was feeling.
KOCH: These photos showed the strap imprints on his thighs, ankles, shoulders and back. Alves suffered severe nerve damage and says his doctor told him he nearly died of kidney failure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was so upset, I left, went to my office. I cried. I prayed.
KOCH: And former deputy Madeline Dedeaux filed a report. She also says she warned her supervisor about Ryan Teel, who she says was the most violent guard.
MADELINE DEDEAUX, FORMER JAILER: I had talked to the major and I told her that, in my opinion, if something's not done to Teel and to -- about that incident, that eventually someone was going to get killed. He was going to eventually end up killing someone, but it needed to be done.
KOCH: But Dedeaux said nothing changed, nothing. In fact, it was just one month later that Jessie Lee Williams was beaten into a coma and died. Deputy Teel was charged with attempting to kill Williams and then cover it up. Teel has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney would not comment.
(on camera) If they had listened, do you think that Jessie Williams would be alive today?
DEDEAUX: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.
KOCH (voice-over): As for jail officials, Sheriff Payne (ph) issued a statement, saying that he is fully cooperating in all investigations related to the Williams case, and that many changes were made after his death: among them, a new warden, revised use of force and taser policies, tougher screening for new hires, additional supervisors, and expanded training programs.
But former jailer, Preston Wills, insists many guards responsible for beatings still control the jail.
PRESTON WILLS, FORMER JAILER: There's still a lot of people in there right now that they need to get in trouble. They really do, and they need to really be looked at very closely. They don't need to be there, period.
KOCH: And all of this had happened before 21-year-old Lee Damond Smith (ph) was brought to the jail. It was ten months after Williams' deadly beating, well after those safeguards were supposedly put in place.
On his 13th day in jail, Smith's mother received some frightening calls, from families of other inmates, saying something terrible had happened.
LASHUN SMITH, LEE SMITH'S MOTHER: They said that he was -- they saw officers covering his body with a white sheet.
KOCH: Stunned, Smith's aunt called the jail.
SHYRI SMITH, LEE SMITH'S AUNT: I wanted to know is anything wrong with my nephew. She said, "There's nothing wrong with your nephew."
And then I said, "Well, let me speak with him."
She said, "You know you can't speak to the inmate." She was so rude, and she said, "There have not been any deaths at the Harrison County jail." KOCH: Smith's mother raced to the jail, demanding answers about her son. Instead, she says she got lies.
L. SMITH: When I got there, you know, they kept denying it, denying it, denying it.
KOCH: Finally, the warden came in and delivered the awful news: her son was dead.
(on camera) The death investigation report by the district attorney's office and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations states that witnesses said Lee Smith collapsed in a TV room at the jail. They say he began having seizures, became unresponsive, and then paramedics were called.
(voice-over) The county autopsy found that Lee Smith died of natural causes, of, quote, "massive recent pulmonary embolism," a blood clot in the lung. But the young man had never had any health problems.
Then, as if in confirmation of his family's worst fears, Smith's grandmother had a disturbing dream.
LUCY WILLIAMS, LEE SMITH'S GRANDMOTHER: He said, "Mama, I was murdered. They killed me." And it just ran chills all through my body. I just woke up instantly.
COOPER: Well, the stunning conclusion, when we come back.
And later, a black market for endangered animals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): Dr. Gupta goes shopping for endangered species.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Little baby civets. Little baby civets.
COOPER: Civet cat, tiger parts. A booming business spells troubles for endangered animals, trying to survive on a "Planet in Peril".
What was she thinking? What was she drinking?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was chasing after another car.
COOPER: Did someone say chaser? We'll give it to you straight on Lindsay Lohan's latest bender, her battle with the bottle, and drugs. Ahead on 360.
COOPER: A young man walks in into a jail and leaves in a body bag. The cause of Lee Damond Smith's (ph) death is in dispute. But to his mother and grandmother, the truth is clear. The killers, they allege, were corrections officers, guard already under a cloud of suspicion.
Before the break we laid out the investigation. Would the autopsy, however, results confirm their worst suspicions? We're "Keeping Them Honest". CNN's Kathleen Koch concludes her exclusive investigation.
KOCH (voice-over): Lee Damond Smith's (ph) family was suspicious, suspicious that the 21-year-old's sudden death in the Harrison County jail may have been foul play, that the blood clot described as the cause of death by the county autopsy was a lie.
Friends helped raise $9,000 for an independent autopsy. It was conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Matthias Okoye.
DR. MATTHIAS OKOYE, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: He was strangled and he was restrained while being strangled.
KOCH: Doctor Okoye's finding is scathing: asphyxia, due to neck compression and physical restraint while in police custody.
Doctor Okoye discovered hemorrhaging two inches deep on the right side of Smith's neck and showed us pictures of the wound. He also found multiple injuries on Smith's head, trunk, arms and legs.
OKOYE: That means that there must have been a struggle. There must have been an altercation, because these are minor blunt force traumatic injuries, scattered all over the body.
KOCH (on camera): So you found he was being restrained. He was strangled. So you're saying he was murdered?
OKOYE: Yes, and that is homicide.
KOCH (voice-over): But what about the county's official explanation that Smith died of a blood clot in the lungs? Dr. Okoye says the only way to prove a death because of a blood clot is to dissect the lungs. He says that never happened.
OKOYE: I was shocked, actually. Even my assistants were shocked.
KOCH: Dr. Paul McGery (ph), the forensic pathologist who performed that first autopsy for the county, would not return CNN's calls.
(on camera) Gary Hargrove, the Harrison County coroner, as well as two detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, were present during the first autopsy, conducted in this building. Hargrove says the lungs were dissected.
So what did you see when he opened up the lungs? GARY HARGROVE, HARRISON COUNTY CORONER: Massive blood clots in the lungs and in the veins and stuff.
KOCH (voice-over): When CNN asked Hargrove for the photos of his autopsy, he refused. And when we offered Hargrove a copy of the second independent autopsy and photos, he wouldn't look at them or comment on the findings unless the family provided them. Fearing the county could somehow use the details to cover wrongdoing, the Smith's family lawyers advised against that.
(on camera) How do you reconcile this with what you found?
HARGROVE: All I can rely on at this point in time is the autopsy that we performed, the information that we have about the events surrounding Mr. Smith's death, what the investigation showed.
KOCH: So you saw no marks on his neck?
KOCH: No hemorrhaging?
KOCH (voice-over): The cause of the autopsy findings were so dramatically different, CNN took them to a third forensic pathologist for yet another opinion. Dr. Howard Adelman examined both written reports, as well as more than 200 photos from the second independent autopsy.
HOWARD ADELMAN, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: The photographs are very convincing along with the description, and so I would go along with the cause of death being a strangulation.
KOCH (on camera): Are you and Dr. McGery (ph) involved in any kind of cover-up to hide a murder, the murder of Lee Smith in the Harris County jail, if indeed he was murdered there?
HARGROVE: No, we're not. I have not ever covered up a death and will not do it today or any other time. Because when it comes to that, it's time to get out of the business.
KOCH (voice-over): In fact, the sheriff's statement says the county coroner's autopsy did not reveal any foul play. Though critics wonder about the sheriff's own record supervising the jail.
MICHAEL CROSBY, ATTORNEY FOR JESSIE WILLIAMS' FAMILY: How could a sheriff be in charge of a jail for this many years and not know what's going on in his own jail?
KOCH (on camera): And it sounds like there's not an isolated act anymore. It sounds like there is a clear pattern.
CROSBY: Being able to put together the evidence to show that it was, in fact, a pattern of abuse that took place over a long period of time. KOCH (voice-over): Lee Damond Smith (ph) is buried not far from his Biloxi home. His family says they won't rest until they confront those who killed him.
S. SMITH: We want the world to know, the nation to know what's going on in Mississippi, so therefore, this may save someone else's son.
KOCH: Kathleen Koch, CNN, Biloxi, Mississippi.
COOPER: Three weeks after we began our investigation, the local district attorney asked the U.S. Justice Department to take over. The Department of Justice is now investigating.
I'm joined by senior legal analyst for CNN, Jeffrey Toobin.
How could this go on in a county jail?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As bad as this story is, and it's horrifying, it's actually worse, because in 1995, the U.S. Department of Justice came in and worked out a consent decree where they were supposed to have some sort of supervision.
Yet these people keep dying, even though the U.S. Department of Justice was supposed to be looking at what's going on.
COOPER: And they -- they recently settled a civil lawsuit in the Jessie Williams case for something like...
TOOBIN: Three million dollars.
COOPER: Three and a half million dollars. Obviously, in a post- Katrina economy for this area, that's a big blow.
TOOBIN: You know, our producer on this story, Katherine Mitchell (ph), says there are 14 lawsuits outstanding against -- against this county jail. So as immoral and horrible as this is, it's also economically a disaster for a county that obviously can't afford it.
COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, it's just unbelievable. We'll continue to follow the case. Jeff, thanks.
Up next on 360, exotic, illegal and in demand. Our "Planet in Peril" series takes us to China where endangered animals are a booming business.
COOPER: Tonight our "Planet in Peril" team is on the other side of the world in South China, the city of Guangzhou. It's close to Hong Kong.
Here in the west, it's known as Canton, as in Cantonese food, which is one of the most familiar types of cuisine from China. It's what many Chinese restaurants in America serve.
But beyond the familiar dishes, there is a darker, disturbing story to tell. Here's CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
GUPTA (voice-over): Five-thirty in the morning in Guangzhou, China. Craig Kirkpatrick of the conservation group TRAFFIC and I are on our way to see something that's not supposed to be happening.
As we pull up to our destination, we can see activity behind these bushes. To find out what's going on, we decide to get out and see for ourselves.
(on camera) Look over here.
(voice-over) Our arrival is not well-received. The traders quickly disperse, taking bags and cages of goods with them, but we're able to catch a glimpse of some illegal merchandise.
GUPTA (on camera): Baby civets.
CRAIG KIRKPATRICK, TRAFFIC EAST ASIA: Little baby civets here. And then the cat.
GUPTA (voice-over): Civet cats look harmless enough, but it's believed they were the source of the SARS outbreak in 2002 which killed at least 700 people worldwide. And yet in China, they're seen as a delicacy, and consumption of civets continues to grow.
KIRKPATRICK: One of the things that is quite clear is that as China has grown economically, the consumption of wildlife has just gone off the map. As people have become wealthier, they've turned to these luxury goods. These are basically luxury goods. And as people have become wealthier in China, they've had more ability to buy them, and this is has caused just a depletion of these resources.
GUPTA: According to the conservation group Wildlife Alliance, China is the No. 1 importer of wildlife in the world. You can see it everywhere in Guangzhou.
(on camera) We've made our way from an illegal market to a legal market now. This is really stunning to me. Take a look. In one particular store, these are all turtles, literally thousands of turtles. This really gives you a sense of the demand for this sort of wildlife.
And I'm told that 10,000 tons of turtle is consumed every single year for all sorts of different purposes.
Now these turtles, in particular, are all from China. That makes this legal. Let me show you something else.
Here you have two different species of turtle. I want to show you this. First of all you have a turtle from Burma over here, and you have another species of turtle from Madagascar. The reason this is important: both these turtles are considered endangered but being sold here for consumption.
This really gets at what we've been talking about here in the small marketplace, having huge global impact.
Are the police going to come here and shut a place like this down?
KIRKPATRICK: It's very rare for the police to come and shut these places down. Even though it's illegal, there are so many other priorities that they've got going in this very large country that's expanding at a tremendous rate. Wildlife trade just doesn't really register very high on their priority list.
GUPTA: And that's exactly what the buyers and sellers of illegal wildlife continue to count on.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Guangzhou, China.
COOPER: Sanjay's report is part of our "Planet in Peril" documentary. The project is a major undertaking by CNN. It's literally taken us around the globe. You can find out more about it at CNN.com/PlanetInPeril, which is all one word.
Coming up, it sounds like a joke -- "so the seagull goes into a convenience store" -- but we'll show you what actually happens, next.
COOPER: In a moment, a seagull walks into a bar and -- well, OK, it's not actually a bar, it's a store. And it's not the setup for a joke. It's "The Shot". But first, Erica Hill joins us with today's headlines in a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, a New Orleans doctor accused of murdering four patients in the days after Hurricane Katrina cleared of all charges today after a grand jury refused to indict her.
Dr. Anna Pou was arrested last July after an investigation alleged seriously ill patients at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center were given a lethal cocktail of drugs. Now, at the time the hospital was surrounded by flood waters and was without electricity.
Also in New Orleans a former police officer cleared today. He was accused of beating a 66-year-old man in the French Quarter about six weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It's tough to forget that. It happened during an arrest that was videotaped by a TV news crew. Well, today a judge who heard the case without a jury said he didn't even find it, quote, "a close call."
On Wall Street, stocks tumbling today. The Dow fell 226 points to close at 13,716. The NASDAQ lost 50. The S&P 500 dropped 30 points, making for the worst single day performance in -- since mid- March for all three indices.
And actress Lindsay Lohan booked again this morning on charges of drunken driving and possession of cocaine. This is her second arrest for drunken driving since May. It comes just two weeks after she checked out of a Malibu rehab facility. The 21-year-old was released on bail. Her lawyer says she is receiving medical care, Anderson.
Erica, time for the "Shot of the Day". A seagull walks into a convenience store in Scotland with a sweet tooth. There's the seagull walking into the convenience store.
HILL: There we go.
COOPER: Grabs a bag of...
HILL: Hey, hey bird, get back here.
COOPER: Is it Skittles? Is it Skedazzles? Is it...
HILL: I think they might be chips. I think they're -- they could be Doritos, some sort of a cheesy chip, I think.
COOPER: And the camera. I love how the camera follows the bird out there. Here's from another angle.
HILL: I think it's -- let's see what we've got here. Those look like chips to me. Ooh, in for the kill!
Now from what I understand, this seagull's become such an attraction that people have actually started offering to pay for the daily snack.
HILL: Yes, it's the word on the street.
COOPER: That's what you hear? Wow, that's cool.
HILL: I got sources. I got people.
COOPER: Maybe we'll fly the seagull over here and have it on the program.
HILL: I like...
COOPER: Or maybe the seagull could fly itself over here and save us the money.
HILL: It is a seagull after all.
COOPER: Yes. We want you to send us your "Shot" ideas. If you see some amazing video, some bird stealing merchandise out of your store, tell us about it, CNN.com/360. Maybe we'll put some of the clips on the air.
COOPER: If you want another look at "The Shot" or get the day's headlines, you can check out the 360 daily podcast. You can watch it at CNN.com/AC360Podcast or get it from the iTunes store where it is a top download.
Up next, a 360 special, the CNN/YouTube debate. You asked. The candidates answered. Get a look at the best of nearly 3,000 videos, including some you haven't seen before. A special hour on 360 next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope that you can accept this challenge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you going to be any different?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the question hit the nail on the head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know y'all are going to run around this question.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been asked a personal question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are no easy answers here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell the truth for a change.
SEN. MIKE GRAVEL (D-AK), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like the question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I throwing my vote away?
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got to have the best prepared generation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are we are watching the same blanking war?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to provoke a debate here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you address these critics?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's terrific.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to know.
OBAMA: I'm going to get to the question, Anderson.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks.
COOPER: Questions and answers at the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate, a groundbreaking night in which you got to ask questions of the candidates directly.
We got nearly 3,000 video questions, and there was no way we could air them all. So tonight, in a special edition of 360, we're going to go beyond the debate itself and see some of the other questions that, for one reason or another, were not presented to the candidates.
We'll also hear what you thought about the debate through videos you sent to CNN to i-Report. So basically, tonight's special is about you.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com